I Believe the Children are the Future . . .

. . . teach them well and let them lead the way . . .

We ARE the New School Models

This year, the Abu Dhabi Education Council announced the launch of the New School Model, a long term plan that puts UAE students at the center of a multi-faceted bilingual education, aiming to make use of “the real wealth” of the UAE – an educated human resource.  By placing teachers from Canada, America, Ireland, the UK and South Africa in KG-3 classrooms, the government is aiming to produce students with the knowledge and experience necessary to make them global leaders not only in the oil industry, but in all innovative industries of the future. For the New School Model, ADEC has recruited 1,405 native English-speaking teachers out of 50,000 applicants world-wide(Lucky us!)

The opening ceremony at the ADEC meeting in Abu Dhabi, attended by over 6000 educators, admin staff, specialists and dignitaries.

Putting Things Into Perspective

Before the discovery of oil, there was very little development in the UAE, and no compulsory educational system to speak of. In 1962, when oil production started in Abu Dhabi, the country had just 20 schools for less than 4,000 students, most of them boys. Lacking the necessary infrastructure for development (hospitals, proper housing, airports, etc.) as well as qualified human resources, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, former UAE President, certainly had his work cut out for him.

The discovery of oil provided the necessary finances to improve the education system. This was a top priority for the president, whose approach was summarized in the powerful statement: Youth is the real wealth of the nation.

Since then, the UAE has come a long way.  Working with the Women’s Federation, they’ve increased literacy amongst women from 30.9% to 77.1% (as of 1998) – beating out a 73.4% literacy rate amongst men.  And as of 2008, the overall literacy rate was up to 90% – amongst youth aged 15-24, the numbers soar to 98% (Unicef).  And all this can be attributed to strong leadership from the top down, efficient allocation of funds and a sharply focused implementation strategy.

New Schools for New Challenges

The New School Model is simply the latest in the country’s vigorous program to increase reliance on human resources over oil resources.  At the ADEC meeting this week – attended by over 4000 educators, including myself – the Director General of ADEC, Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, announced a goal of 40% reliance on oil by 2020, compared to the current rate of 60% reliance today.  The hard cold obstacles educator would face were presented with transparency:

  • The UAE has an average school year of only 142 days – 50% of the highest scoring nations in education
  • An increase of 150,000 students by 2018 translates to a need for at least 150 new schools
  • Many non-urban regions in the UAE severely lack the funds or infrastructure to provide a quality education to their students
  • 350 million dhirams (about 1 million US dollars) must be invested to provide internet access to all schools in the UAE
  • To address these issues, ADEC is working closely with many private companies, like my employer, SABIS, to ensure the model is implemented in an efficient and thorough manner.

“The model focuses on the engagement of students and cooperative group activities. Children are encouraged to learn through play, problem solving and creativity,” Rhian Johnson, head of faculty and adviser for cognition education at Umm Habebah School, explained.

Video from the inspired presentation on ADEC’s New School Model.

Creativity, Leadership, Teamwork

The curriculum focuses on these dynamic human qualities (rather than a simple linear focus on ‘technology’ or ‘grade point average’), putting students in groups with academic and managerial leaders to keep the activities moving along smoothly.  Detailed pacing charts and materials are provided, giving the teachers time to focus on the effective delivery of the subject matter.  For KG classes, local teachers will be present to ensure behavior is kept in check and group games executed without wasting any time between language barriers. Results from frequent testing are recorded electronically and analyzed on a regular basis to ensure the students are best benefitting from the classes.

Dr. Lynne Pierson, ADEC’s Director of P-12, presented the key elements of the NSM and its implementation phases.

Although most of the native English-speaking teachers are enthusiastic about the program, the New School Model could look more than daunting for the local teachers whose classrooms are being invaded by men and women often with much less experience under their belts.

“The program looks great in a Power Point Presentation – and the teachers at my school have been incredibly welcoming,” says one of the ADEC hires, “But the actual on-the-ground process is delicate.  Some of these teachers have been in Emirati classrooms for 15 years.  They know the kids, they have their own system.  And we come in, some of us with only a few years of teaching experience, and we’re supposed to be in charge.  I can see how it’d be a tough situation – at first.  But there’s been a lot of cooperation.  We should be able to find our middle ground to achieve the big goals.  And we all know it’s in the best interests of the kids.”

The government is aiming for 90% of the workforce to be local UAE residents by 2020 – which means teachers like myself are here to implement, model, and hit the road.  That being said, for high-level education, pronunciation, career-specific English and the finer points of grammar and writing will certainly still be subjects native-speaking teachers could present.

My Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

With a comprehensive education system for boys and girls and free education for nationals in governmental schools, colleges and universities, the UAE hopes to become a major competitor in academia – the sooner the better. The private education sector is constantly being improved and some offer foreign language education in English, French, German,Urdu and a Chinese program with a waiting list of 1200 students.  Green schools are popping up all over the country, complete with solar panels and recycling program – 50 of these green schools are set to be completed by August.

“It is wonderful to see the initiatives ADEC implemented slowly, but surely, coming to fruition. We are proud to see Abu Dhabi’s educational landscape positively shifting and our students reaping the benefits of years of planning and dedication from everyone involved,” said the Director General during a visit of public schools this week.

Watch this space for updates on how things are looking on the ground!

And for making it all the way to the bottom of this article:

More photos of the event:


2 thoughts on “I Believe the Children are the Future . . .”

  1. Replying late (2 months+). This is a fantastic, exciting development in K-12 education worldwide. It is really exciting to think of progressive models of education in the UAE and other nations, that can benefit us here in the USA. I do not teach K-12 but think these conceptual developments in education sound much better than “No Child Left Behind” (not only underfunded but also ineffective), teaching to the test, failing to teach writing properly, all the things that undercut education in the US.

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